- Afghanistan - diplomacy - Pakistan - Richard Holbrooke - USA
Senior US diplomat Richard Holbrooke dies
Richard Holbrooke, who was President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and brokered the 1995 accord ending the Balkans war, died on Monday aged 69.
Richard Holbrooke, a giant of the US foreign policy establishment whose diplomatic career spanned the Vietnam, Balkan and Afghan wars, died on Monday. He was 69.
The veteran diplomat, who last served as US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, died Dec. 13, 2010 in Washington, after surgeons were unable to repair an aortal tear.
Dubbed “the Bulldozer” for his relentless - sometimes pugnacious - diplomatic style that could bring warring leaders to the table and once there, control them, Holbrooke had a long, distinguished career in the US foreign service.
Beginning his career in South Vietnam in 1963, just as the US was being bogged down in a deadly guerrilla war, Holbrooke went on to serve under every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy in a distinguished career that included a stint as US Ambassador to the UN.
The highlight of his career was the negotiations that culminated in the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian War.
His tough negotiating style enabled him to wear down intransigent warring leaders such as Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Croatian leader Franjo Tudman and Bosnian activist Alija Izetbegovic, while his robust constitution famously saw him surviving 11-hour drink-fuelled dinners with former Yugoslav leaders.
In 2008, when he was elected president, Barack Obama selected Holbrooke to take on the toughest foreign policy challenge confronting his presidency: the Afghanistan situation.
A seasoned diplomat who once served as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Holbrooke insisted that the crisis in Afghanistan could not be solved without tackling neighbouring Pakistan. And so, the now oft-used term “Af-Pak” was coined and has since dominated US foreign policy.
In his remarks shortly after Holbrooke’s December 2010 heart surgery, Obama called Holbrooke “a towering figure in American foreign policy”.
Probably the most complimentary quip came from another giant of US foreign policy – from the other side of Democratic-Republican political divide: former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
“If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just say yes,” Kissinger famously quipped. “If you say no, you’ll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful.”
The elusive Secretary of State post
Born in New York City in 1941 to a German-Jewish mother and a Russian-Jewish father, Holbrooke had a secular upbringing - except for the odd Sunday Quaker meetings. “I was an atheist, his father was an atheist,” his mother, Trudi, told the New York Times. “We never thought of giving Richard a Jewish upbringing.”
An early shot at journalism was nipped in the bud when James Reston, then New York Times Washington bureau chief, declined to hire him.
Holbrooke opted for a life in the foreign service instead, but it was one that was particularly open to the press.
“He loved reporters,” retired US ambassador Frank Wisner told The New Yorker. “He had an instinct what to feed reporters, what to deny them – how you used your access to the reportorial class to advance your own bureaucratic agenda.”
But while his proximity to press made him a household name and distinguished him from the legions of unsung career diplomats, it never provided him the title he long sought: US Secretary of State.
In 2008, when Obama was elected, he came the closest he’s ever come to the sought-after post. But in the end, it went to his close friend, Hillary Clinton, who also happened to be the wife of his old boss, former US President Bill Clinton.
An ‘explosive’ meeting in Kabul
As US special envoy to Afghanistan-Pakistan, Holbrooke had a rough ride. His tough-talking style did not endear him to the increasingly mercurial Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The press of course got to hear of it after what was called “an explosive” meeting between Holbrooke and Karzai in Kabul following the disputed Aug. 20, 2009 presidential election.
Despite clear evidence of massive fraud, Karzai won the election and continued to serve – amid growing frustration in Washington and other European capitals – as Afghan president.
Holbrooke’s role in the region also clashed with that of top US military officials in Afghanistan as Washington struggled to achieve a balance between a civilian and military strategy to address a confounding foreign policy problem.
In its June 2010 issue, US magazine Rolling Stone revealed the deep divisions between the US military and civilian arms when then top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal quipped after receiving a Holbrooke email: "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke... I don't even want to open it."
A lucrative Wall Street career
Besides his career in the US foreign service, Holbrooke also had a lucrative business career.
From 1985 until 1993, Holbrooke served as managing director of Lehman Brothers.
In 1998, when he was nominated by then President Clinton to serve as US ambassador to the UN, his appointment was delayed while a federal ethics probe was carried out over his Wall Street career.
After stepping down as US Ambassador to the UN in 2001, he served as vice-chairman for a private equity firm.
Holbrooke is survived by his wife, Kati Marton, an author and former TV news reporter. The couple does not have children, although she has a son and a daughter from a previous marriage to renowned television anchor Peter Jennings.